Whenever I read news about some scientific breakthrough, names that come up are mostly of the group leaders, a.k.a. last authors. I believe in most cases, it is rightfully for the last author to get the credit. The first authors are usually inexperienced Ph.D. students who work under the guidance of their supervisor. Ideas from their first author papers mostly come from the last author, and they often only implement the ideas.
However, there are certainly cases where the first author is also the idea provider. Who will then get the credit when the work later becomes a huge success? How can the public then determine the contribution? What if the paper one day is considered for a Nobel prize? I am thinking about the CRISPR-Cas9 papers. It is speculated that the two last authors will be awarded the Nobel prizes. How about the first authors of that papers?
Note: A Nobel prize here is just an extreme example that popped out of my mind during writing. I want to talk about more common situations where the group leaders go around the world and give talks about an innovative work, whose idea might actually came from a student. He might give the student full credit but in the eyes of the community he is still “the one” simply because the student is just a nobody.